Watercress and other Herbs

An herb comes from the green leaf of a plant. In American English the H is silent.

Previously here we have looked at watercress from the viewpoints of botany, geology, agriculture, and geography now we’re going to start looking at watercress from its most familiar viewpoint and that is cooking, eating, and nutrition.

In one post, we established that watercress is a vegetable,specifically a green leafy vegetable in the same family as broccoli and cabbage. But watercress also has another identity and that is an herb.

Note: Because I live and publish from the United States, I use the American pronunciation of herb in which the h is silent. Apparently, the word is pronounced differently in The United Kingdom. I don’t know how other English speaking countries pronounce it. You can listen to the difference at this link.

herb pronunciation
a drawing of a nastutium plant-watercress

What is an herb?

 According to Bee Wilson writing in her column Table Talk, The Wall Street Journal (June 17th, 2021)

“Sometimes the term is used interchangeably with “spice” but technically an herb-which comes from the Latin herba, meaning grass-comes from the green leaf of a plant whereas spices come from other parts such as seeds bark roots and buds.”

Ms. Wilson points out that it is perfectly possible to cook and eat without fresh herbs, but it would be dull. She gives examples–warm focaccia with rosemary, Mexican food with the grassy hit of cilantro, and Vietnamese pho soup with its essential mint; without these, half the pleasure would be gone.

The person who cooks with herbs is making a stand for joy.

Bee Wilson

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

She explained that half a century ago the only herbs in frequent use were mint, thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, and basil. Other herbs less commonly used included bay leaves, chives, chervil, parsley, and tarragon. But the use of cilantro was little known. Both it and basil grew in popularity as Mexican and Italian cooking spread throughout the United States, as now is Middle Eastern cuisine.

Ms. Wilson recommends a cookbook by Mark Diacono, a gardener and cook, Herb: A Cook’s Companion. In it he included a recipe for grilled peaches flavored with basil, watercress, and shaved parmesan.

View a sample of the Kindle version at this link.

She also mentions that in Renaissance Europe herbs were seen as vital in the kitchen both for seasoning and as medicine.

In an old cookbook she found a recipe using the herb borage, that claimed to comfort the heart and take away melancholy. She tried it, but it didn’t work. However, she said it is true that life is sweeter with herbs.

You can own a copy of the historical book, The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits, for the bargain price of $987!

Books by Bee Wilson (affiliate links)

At her blog Claire’s World, Claire Justine a “47+ lifestyle blogger from Nottingham” offers us this scrumptious sounding recipe using watercress. Visit her blog and try some of her other recipes also.

Baked Pumpkin and Watercress Fondue
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com


exploring the HEART of HERBS

I’m learning more and more about watercress and hope you are too. If you’ve just now found me, here are links to some other watercress posts.

What is watercress? It depends on who you ask.

Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. Many health benefits are attributed to eating watercress , such as that it acts as a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid. It may also have cancer-suppressing properties, and is widely believed to help defend against lung cancer.

Keep reading

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

And please share this post with your friends who want to know more about watercress and herbs. Or who just like good food.

Thanks, Dr. Aletha

How watercress is like a tomato

Like tomatoes, watercress is used as a fresh salad vegetable or in cooked dishes.But like tomatoes, watercress has a dual identity

We all know a tomato is a vegetable. We cook it in soups, stews, and chili. We pair it with leafy green vegetables in salads. Cookbooks list it with other vegetable recipes

But plant science categorizes tomatoes as fruit.  Any thing that grows on a plant and is the means by which that plant gets its seeds out into the world is a fruit. Another way to say it is

“the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant; especially : one having a sweet pulp.”

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

A banana is an elongated, edible fruit – botanically a berry – produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa.

But the most convincing reason to call a tomato a fruit, is because the Supreme Court said so.

In 1893, the high court ruled  on whether imported tomatoes should be taxed under the Tariff Act of 1883, which only applied to vegetables and not fruits.

Although both sides cited dictionary definitions of the two words, the court sided unanimously with the vegetable lobby although acknowledging the scientific fact.

Justice Horace Grey summed up the argument succinctly:

“Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas,”

“But in the common language of the people … all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”

Justice Horace Grey
A young African woman with a crate of tomatoes on her head
photo of a young woman in Madagascar carrying a box of tomatoes on her head
by Bob Birkbeck, LIGHTSTOCK.COM

We usually find fruits sweeter than vegetables. Botanically speaking, any part of a plant that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant is a fruit, while all other parts of the plant are considered vegetables.

But tomatoes as well as cucumbers, avocados, olives, green peppers, pumpkin,and zucchini are technically fruits, even if they are used as vegetables in meals.

So how is watercress like a tomato?

Watercress is a vegetable-a green, leafy, cruceriferous vegetable. Part of the Cruciferae or Brassicaceae family, it is related to other vegetables like cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, rocket, cauliflower and radish.

Like tomatoes, watercress is used as a fresh salad vegetable or in cooked dishes.

Versatile watercress can be enjoyed as a salad vegetable, in soups and smoothies, in cooked dishes such as stir-fries, sauces for pasta ,on pizza and fish dishes.

The watercress plant does produce fruit, but we don’t eat them. Here’s a description of watercress from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Stems succulent, hollow, and much branched, 1 to many, 4–25 in. long, rooting at nodes.
  • Leaves pinnately divided; leaflets 3–7, oval to egg-shaped, entire to wavy-edged.
  • Flowers small(6 mm, diameter) in terminal clusters, white.
  • Sepals, erect, green, about 3 mm long;
  • petals white,about 4 mm long and 4 long stamens (male part) attached near their bases to the filaments.
  • Ovary about 3 mm long, style short, stigma with two lobes.
  • Fruits borne on spreading pedicels and slightly curved upward. The double row of seeds in each half of the siliqua is a well marked character. (Siliqua is a narrow elongated seed capsule peculiar to the family Cruciferae.)
    The valves of the ripe siliqua beaded; seeds suborbicular and compressed, with 25 alveoli on each side of the testa(protective outer layer).

I have no training in botany so I understand little of this, but I surmise that the fruit of the watercress has to do with reproduction, since other “fruits” have seeds. But no, I don’t think we can call watercress a fruit.

a drawing of a nastutium plant-watercress
But like tomatoes, watercress has a dual identity; watercress is a vegetable, but it is also an herb.

Watercress is an aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial herb with bright white flowers that resemble the shape of a cross; hence, an old name (Cruciferae) for the mustard family, to which watercress belongs.

Watercress by Dave Moore
Nasturtium officinale W.T. Aiton - watercress NAOF
Watercress is a
  • freshwater, aquatic flowering plant
  • an invasive weed
  • a cruciferous vegetable
  • a perenniel herb with nutritional and medicinal properties

And what is an herb? Follow this blog for my next post exploring the HEART of watercress.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

And an apple is still a fruit Dr.Aletha

%d bloggers like this: